When I tell people who don’t know me what I do the first thing they say is “you must have a really good nose” or “you must be really sensitive to smells” . If they have an interest in learning perfumery they ask “how do I train my nose”
Anosmia aside, I do not believe I have a better sense of smell than the next person and am no more sensitive to odour. I am, however a very good communicator and have a good memory – this is the key, along with years of training.
Perfumery is essentially about odour perception, creation and communication and whilst the nose is used as a tool it is nothing without the brain. Most of us are able to perceive odours but many people find it difficult to describe and communicate what it is they are smelling in a way that other can understand. A perfumer must know his or her materials extremely well and be able to recognise, describe and blend them with each other to create something else.
When we are children we are taught what words and things are by looking at pictures and repeating the word. We learn this for visual clues such as colour and shape, also for texture and to a degree for the sounds we hear and emotions we feel. Our sense of smell is something we are aware of from an early age – way before our vocabulary has developed and is very much linked to taste. We know how to identify things intuitively from the way that they smell but we have never been taught the words to communicate them unless they relate to a familiar object such as an orange, a bacon sandwich or smelly feet.
As adults many of us find it difficult to learn things by repetiton especially if we do not agree with what we are being taught. As the sense of smell works on such a subjective level it is especially difficult to learn about fragrance materials in this way as our perception and inbuilt odour memory may vary from one person to the next.
When you train your nose to recognise specific odours and materials, what you are really training is your brain. By creating your own links with memories, feelings, colours and textures and practising regularly and methodically you will be able to build up your olfactory memory to the standard of any professional perfumer or evaluator.